Wednesday, May 20, 2009

News From the War Front...

Peace in Af-Pak
The News, May 21, 2009
Zafar Hilaly

Admittedly these are as yet early days and the army action is far from complete. But already there are disturbing signs that the result of the big push may not achieve the intended results. The Taliban are not being killed or surrendering, at least not in sufficient numbers, instead they are relocating. This is evident from Zahid Hussain's article in the Dawn of May18.

Reporting from Dagger he says that while the Taliban have been flushed out of this town of 10,000 persons, "the militants still lurked in the mountains not far from here". Most Pakistanis recognise that this is a war that had to be fought and are supportive of the army action. They are glad that the government appreciates that the answer lies not in sporadic military forays against the enemy but hunkering down with determination in the territories reclaimed from the Taliban for as long as it takes in order to protect the populace from the enemy.

It is difficult to surmise at the outset of what will be a long and bitter conflict as to who will be the eventual victor and whether the military will achieve what few have in the past namely the pacification of the Frontier tribes.

Success will depend on a number of factors some of which are:

1. The Pushtuns of Pakistan must lead the war effort against the Taliban. And if for some sad and inexplicable reason they do not or unite with the Taliban, their fellow Pushtuns, the war will become unwinnable. No nationalist insurgency against a foreign occupation has lost over the past 50 years.

2. It is inconceivable that success in either theatre of the war -- Afghanistan or Pakistan -- can be achieved without success in both. Success requires a far, far greater level of cooperation between all the major stakeholders fighting the Taliban in Af-Pak than that exists today. Efforts must be made to co-opt Iran and persuade India to play a constructive role. True, wars are won on the battlefield but negotiations to enhance the prospects of victory are also advisable.

3. As long as there is a regime in Kabul which is reluctant to end the cultivation of poppy because it profits from it; and as long as the US is reluctant or unable to prevail on Kabul to desist the Taliban will continue to skim off $300-400 million annually from the drug trade to fund their war effort. This is serious money and there are many takers in the poverty-stricken bad lands of Afghanistan.

4. Hard-won successes on the battlefield will be lost unless governance improves and corruption is reduced. Saturating the target area with bombs and dollars will fail if the bombs hit the poor and the money does not. The former will breed hatred and the latter great anger.

5. Poverty, illiteracy and the stagnant economy leave few opportunities for the majority of young Pushtuns especially those who survive on $1 a day. These young men do nothing, earn nothing and look forward to nothing. They provide a fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban. Once the fighting ebbs, massive investments in schools, health units, poverty alleviation and employment schemes must be made in the Frontier.

Defeating the Taliban and caring for the IDPs are formidable tasks and when to these are added the additional tasks of good governance, capable leadership, the elimination of corruption and myriad other tasks, including a skilful handling of the economy, the burden is an onerous one; and far too heavy for a government, particularly one that is regarded as inept, inexperienced and unpopular. Hence today the need for a national government that can forge and implement such an agenda is crucial.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:

A War on Two Fronts - Dawn
Daggar — devastation all around, Dawn, May 18, By Zahid Husain
Pakistan diary: Unity in Adversity - Aljazeera
Clinton Pledges More Aid to Pakistan - CNN

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